THE AUTHOR

Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC. He is an editor at The Comeback and Awful Announcing

Previously, he has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, MLive.com and SB Nation. In addition, he was a lead baseball writer for Bleacher Report. 

You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook, where he craves your attention.

He still plans to write that novel someday. 

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Entries in Detroit Tigers (22)

Wednesday
Dec042013

What were the Tigers thinking with that Doug Fister trade? 

Tuesday was a crazy day in Major League Baseball with a flurry of trades and free agent signings flooding the news cycle. The biggest, splashiest move of the day was outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury signing a seven-year, $153 million contract with the New York Yankees. 

Earlier in the day, however, baseball fans, reporters and analysts were still trying to make sense of the Detroit Tigers trading pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for three seemingly nondescript players on Monday night. 

The consensus was that the Tigers made a terrible trade, swapping a very good starting pitcher under team control for two more seasons (for a less expensive price) for what appeared to be spare parts. I had the same opinion.

But after sleeping on it, I tried to figure out what general manager Dave Dombrowski was thinking in my latest piece for The Outside Corner. Surprising as it might be, I think he had an eye on the future and seized the opportunity to get a young pitcher he liked in 22-year-old Robbie Ray.

However, general manager Dave Dombrowski apparently thinks highly of Ray, a 22-year-old left-hander. Though he was the Nationals' No. 5 prospect in Baseball America's view, Ray is the centerpiece of this deal for the Tigers. He gives their minor league system a top young arm it was lacking since Jacob Turner was traded to the Marlins two years ago in the swap that brought Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit. Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parkslisted Jonathan Crawford — their 2013 first-round pick — as the Tigers' No. 1 pitching prospect prior to getting Ray. He surely becomes Detroit's best minor league arm now. 

You can read the full article here.

The Tigers followed the trade up quickly by signing reliever Joe Nathan to a two-year deal, providing the closer that the bullpen sorely needed. But there is surely more to come with baseball's winter meetings being held next week in Orlando. 

Tuesday
Nov262013

How feelings changed about Prince Fielder in 2 years

With Prince Fielder being formally introduced by the Texas Rangers in Arlington on Monday, I was reminded that I wanted to go back and see what I wrote when the Tigers signed him as a free agent in January 2012.

The day after Detroit traded Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler, my mother recalled how excited I was when Fielder was signed. That move just came out of nowhere. It was something that internet commenters and sports talk radio callers would suggest. I still remember Kevin Kaduk sending me an instant message and I thought he was just messing with me in response to some rumor. 

Here's what I wrote for SB Nation Detroit after the trade was made, one of the last pieces I wrote for that site:

Welcome to fantasy land, Detroit Tigers fans.

That giant beast in front of Comerica Park might as well be replaced with a unicorn. The archway at the main entrance could be changed into a rainbow.

Should we change the date of Christmas in Detroit to January 24, while we're at it?

For years to come, the day the Tigers shocked the baseball world by signing Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract will be when the sports scene in this city truly changed. It was the kind of happening that makes you think about where you were and what you were doing when you heard the big, really big news.

Soon thereafter, I wrote this for Big League Stew, part of "The 10 Best Things About Being a Detroit Tigers Fan." First on the list, owner Mike Ilitch:

1. The owner likes to go big: You remember that scene from "Inception" when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is shooting at snipers with a rifle, then Tom Hardy comes over to say, "You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling," and whips out a grenade launcher?

That's what Tigers owner Mike Ilitch did to general manager Dave Dombrowski with this Prince Fielder signing this offseason.

After Victor Martinez suffered a season-ending knee injury, Tigers fans, bloggers and reporters (and front office staff, most likely) threw out names like Vladimir Guerrero and Johnny Damon as possible replacements. Ilitch essentially said, "Yeah, yeah — whatever!" to such notions. That wasn't good enough. The man wants to win a World Series. So he got the best guy available. What more can a fan ask for?

Two years later, Tigers fans couldn't wait to ship Fielder out of town. Ilitch and the team's front office was reportedly eager to shed Fielder and his enormous contract from the payroll. And Fielder apparently wanted out of Detroit too, perhaps hoping for a fresh start in Texas. Fortunately for all parties involved, the Tigers were able to call a mulligan on this thing. 

Thursday
Nov212013

The Tigers and Dave Dombrowski keep thinking big

It is never boring with the Detroit Tigers, whether you follow them as a fan or cover them as a reporter, columnist or blogger.

We saw another example of that Wednesday night as the Tigers made a surprising blockbuster deal, sending Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Ian Kinsler. Such a trade was thought to be nearly impossible because of the seven years and $168 million remaining on Fielder's contract. But Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has a way of getting these sorts of things done. 

In my latest post for The Outside Corner, I applaud Dombrowski not only for the Fielder trade but the many bold, splashy moves he's made during the 11 years he's been in charge of the Tigers. 

Anyone who creates or manages something — whether it's assembling a baseball team, putting together an office staff or writing a book — has to be ruthless in acknowledging what doesn't work and willing to slice it away. The objective has to be making that endeavor better, regardless of how the changes might be perceived. Dombrowski's willingness to do that is what continues to set him apart from so many of his fellow MLB general managers and makes every offseason in Detroit an exciting and hopeful one. Whether or not it results in a World Series championship, the ambition is always there. 

You can read the full article here.

Did I lay it on a bit thick? Hey, I'm a Tigers fan — though I try hard to be objective when it comes to baseball writing. I don't think Dombrowski has been perfect. The continual inability to find a consistent closer and left fielder during his tenure has been kind of baffling.

But even if I was a fan of another team, I'd like to think I would appreciate how Dombrowski has continually made the big move — whether it's a trade or free-agent signing — that keeps the Tigers contending for the playoffs each year. 

Thursday
Aug152013

Do we need to know Prince Fielder's personal business? 

I feel like I — we — shouldn't know that Prince Fielder is getting a divorce.

Yet we do now, thanks to perhaps too much being said on sports talk radio and a blog that has some good sources. Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that such news came out in our current media climate. Virtually everything seems like fair game these days. Those in the public eye have difficulty keeping anything in their personal lives private.

For those unfamiliar with this story — and maybe I'm being just as bad in recapping what's happened and bringing further attention to it — the Detroit Tigers first baseman hasn't been having a strong season.

Fielder is hitting .262, which would be the second-lowest batting average of his nine major league seasons if it holds through the rest of the year. He's not getting on base as much (.352 on-base percentage) and not hitting for as much power (.430 slugging percentage). Basically, he's on pace to have one of the worst performances of his career. 

Naturally, fans, reporters and commentators want to know what's going on. Fielder is in the second year of a nine-year, $214 million contract. He's being paid $23 million this season. 

Of course, the first thought is typically that something is physically wrong with Fielder. Was he hiding any sort of injury? The more cynical among us might have presumed that Fielder is content after cashing in with a big free-agent contract, and thus isn't trying as hard.

That's the sort of sentiment that teammate Torii Hunter was likely responding to when he felt the need to defend Fielder during a radio interview. "A lot of people don't know what's going on in his life," he said on "The Ryan and Rico Show" on Detroit Sports 105.1. 

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Asked if he was saying that fans should lay off Fielder because of what might be going on, Hunter said he couldn't get into it.

But he still brought it up, and that stoked curiosity.

I'm guessing that most fans and reporters were content to leave it at that. Fielder had stuff going on that we didn't know about and didn't need to know about because it wasn't happening on the field. Whether or not those issues were affecting his play was simply something to speculate upon.

That is, until Larry Brown Sports reported Wednesday evening that Fielder had filed for divorce back in May. So there it was: The personal issue, revealed for everyone. 

I'm not criticizing LBS for reporting the story, as uncomfortable as it might be. I have no idea if a source tipped Brown off to Fielder's divorce proceedings or he did some reporting and found Fielder's name among Orange County, Fla. court documents. If it's the latter, that's actually some good work, even if you think it's snooping around in unseemly territory. 

Honestly, I can't say what I would've done if someone had told me about Fielder's divorce. In my current position as more of a columnist, I might have sat on that information, even if I felt people might want to know. 

The argument could be made that I would've had a responsibility to pass that information along. No one can say for certain whether Fielder's personal problems are affecting his play on the field, but it wouldn't be outlandish to draw such a conclusion.

If this is a work performance issue, do we as consumers have the right to know? I'd certainly argue Fielder's bosses and teammates should know, but it's clear that they already did. If a waitperson serving me was going through a tough time and providing poor service, would I really need to know what that person was dealing with at home? I don't know if that's the best comparison, though. 

If I was still a regular Tigers blogger covering everything about the team and running a comment-driven site, I probably would have felt compelled to run the story and let the community have a discussion about it.

That's what happened when Miguel Cabrera had a domestic incident in 2009.

Obviously, that was a different situation. There was a police report. He was out in public. Cabrera had played with visible scratches on his face the following night. What had happened actually did have an effect on the field, as Cabrera may still have been drunk.

At the time, I didn't feel it was my place to do anything other than provide fans a forum to talk about all this. 

Of course, drawing traffic is a consideration. Breaking a story like that would get plenty of hits for a website. It would surely get frequently linked on Twitter and Facebook.

I don't know if that's a temptation I would have been able to pass up. But that certainly would've opened me up to some justifiable criticism. 

I'm sure there are some opinions out there that say this is what's wrong with sports these days. In a 24/7 news cycle with so much time and space to fill, so much more gets reported than before. Anything can get out there fast with social media. 

Back in the old days, these sorts of matters — any personal indiscretions — wouldn't have been revealed. Babe Ruth could stay out until early morning getting drunk and spending the night with women that weren't his wife. That had nothing to do with what occurred on the field, so it wasn't news.(Although back then, sportswriters may have been out carousing with the ballplayers.) 

Was it better back then, when we didn't know virtually everything going on with our favorite athletes and celebrities? I can't really say. Maybe that knowledge helps us as fans realize that these are actually human beings, who go through much of the same crap in their personal lives that we do, regardless of wealth, fame and success. 

Sure, some asshole fans will use that information to insult him from the stands, in blog comments and message boards, or on sports talk radio. But I think most of us will actually show some sympathy. Fielder is going through something none of us would prefer to experience, especially when two children are involved.

In that case, maybe it's a good thing that this got out. Even if we might wish that it didn't.

Monday
Aug052013

A possibly misguided appreciation for Jhonny Peralta

Maybe "appreciation" is the wrong word to use for Jhonny Peralta. After all, the Detroit Tigers shortstop was caught for cheating, for using performance-enhancing substances to gain an edge on the field.

Peralta was one of 12 players suspended by Major League Baseball on Monday for using performance-enhancing substances and violating the sport's drug policy. As outlined by MLB's Joint Drug Agreement, he's drawn a 50-game suspension for failing his first drug test. (Subsequent violations would draw a 100-game penalty, then a lifetime ban.) 

I try not to put my "fan cap" on too often these days when writing about baseball. (Of course, it was unavoidable when I wrote at Bless You Boys.) But this is me writing as a Tigers fan, more than a supposed baseball analyst, commentator or whatever you'd prefer to call it. Maybe I should do that more often. 

When the Tigers acquired Peralta from the Cleveland Indians in July 2010, I thought it was a decent deal. I don't recall any fans or analysts really having a problem with it. It was a low-risk, "why the hell not" trade for Detroit. But I viewed it as a patchwork move at best.

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At the time, the Tigers were 51-49 and five games behind the Chicago White Sox for third place in the AL Central. (Detroit went on to finish in third, 13 games out of first place with an 81-81 record that season.) The numbers said they were still in the race, but they weren't really in serious contention. 

Peralta wasn't having a great year, batting .246 with a .648 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), 23 doubles, seven home runs and 43 RBI. He lost the shortstop position in Cleveland to Asdrubal Cabrera and was at the end of his contract. The Indians seemed unlikely to pick up his $7 million team option (versus a $250,000 buyout) for 2011. 

But Detroit needed a third baseman, which is where Peralta was playing in Cleveland before getting traded. Brandon Inge had a broken hand and Carlos Guillen had a calf injury. Inge was already rather ineffective, coming off surgery on both of his knees less than a year before. Neither Scott Sizemore nor Don Kelly was a solution at the position either. 

Peralta could also help out at shortstop, where he'd played for most of his major league career. Adam Everett brought a nice glove, but couldn't hit. Prospect Danny Worth profiled as a similar player. Ramon Santiago had flashes of promise, but was perceived as a part-time player, one who would wear down under the grind of a full season. 

Shortly after the trade was made, a friend texted me to ask, "Is Peralta going to be the Tigers shortstop next year?" My immediate response was, "Hell, no!" The idea seemed ludicrous to me. Peralta couldn't hit and couldn't field, and couldn't start at shortstop for the last-place Indians. 

But this friend is a smart sports fan (and former blogger — I wish he'd get back to writing), one who really knows his stuff, who thinks about these matters perhaps more deeply than warranted. So if he was thinking Peralta could be the Tigers shortstop in 2011, maybe he was on to something. Could Dave Dombrowski really have been thinking that far ahead?  

Another friend messaged me on Facebook and asked my opinion of the trade. To me, it was a good stopgap move for the rest of the year, but saw no future in it. But this friend looked at three 20-homer seasons in Peralta's past and felt like he could bring some much needed offense to the Tigers lineup. I thought that was crazy. 

As we now know, I was wrong on both counts. The Tigers were indeed looking at Peralta as their shortstop for 2011 — and perhaps beyond. And he became the best hitter at that position since Guillen from 2004-07.

In his first full season with Detroit, Peralta hit .299 with an .824 OPS, 21 homers and 86 RBI. More unexpectedly, he played good defense at shortstop, according to advanced metrics.

FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating (which measures how well players get to balls hit in their defensive "zone") said Peralta saved 10 more runs than the average player at his position, making him the third-best defensive shortstop in baseball that year. He ranked third defensively among MLB shortstops again in 2012

Defensive performance is still difficult to quantify, however. There's no one system or metric viewed as definitive. This seems to apply even more when it comes to Peralta's defense. Under the eyeball test, he just doesn't seem like a strong defensive shortstop.

The Tigers seemed to agree, as they've tried to replace him at the position over the past two years. While his hitting is obviously an asset, getting a player who has far better defensive range at the most important position on the field was a priority. 

Yet Peralta has had another fine season at the plate this year. His .305 batting average is the best of his career. His .361 on-base percentage is the second-highest among his 11 major league seasons, while his .822 OPS is his third-best mark. 

Unfortunately, the legitimacy of those achievements now has to be questioned in light of Peralta's association with the Biogenesis clinic in Miami that issued PEDs to several major league ballplayers, including former MVPs Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun. According to Peralta, he took PEDs in the spring of 2012. Interestingly, he batted .239 with a .689 OPS that year — his worst season with the Tigers. 

Anticipating Peralta's suspension, the Tigers finally got their defensive upgrade at shortstop last week, nabbing Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox as part of a three-team trade also involving the Chicago White Sox. 

Iglesias won't be as good a hitter as Peralta — especially from a power standpoint — but he's vastly superior defensively and is young enough that the Tigers have him under contractual control through 2018. He's now the Tigers' shortstop of the present and future.

But this is a tip of the cap to the Tigers' shortstop of the very recent past. Peralta's suspension will take him to the end of the regular season, and from most accounts, it seems unlikely he'll be invited to rejoin the team for Detroit's expected playoff run. His career with the Tigers is effectively over. 

I realize it might reflect poorly on my morals to celebrate a player who cheated and earned himself millions of dollars because of it. Peralta also just flat-out lied to media and fans back in February when he said, "I have never used performance enhancing drugs. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is lying."

Baseball players taking PEDs doesn't bother me as much as it might other fans. (I would vote Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Baseball Hall of Fame.) Yet I acknowledge that skirting the rules to gain an advantage sends a poor message and destroys the spirit of competition and fairness that we all believe is inherent in athletics. 

Speaking purely as an unobjective Tigers fan, however, I enjoyed watching Peralta play (even while wincing at his poor defensive range) and the two excellent seasons he provided my favorite baseball team. I can't say I'm proud to have rooted him on now. But even if he did so with pharmaceutical aids, Peralta played better for the Tigers than I ever would've expected. And being surprised is one of the reasons watching sports is so fun. 

Thursday
Jun132013

Stick a fork in the Big Potato

I have a soft spot for Jose Valverde. I admit it.

I love his pumping, squatting and kicking after he closes out a game for the Detroit Tigers. I love his personality. During my first-ever visit to spring training in 2011, Papa Grande was the most fun guy to be around, posing for pictures, talking to fans and enjoying the life of a major league ballplayer.

But he shouldn't be the Tigers' closer anymore. He can't get opposing hitters out and Detroit has to pull the plug on him before he costs the team more games they should win.

Valverde and the Tigers are the subject of my latest post for The Outside Corner

[...] to win consistently, a team needs someone who can perform the role reliably. With a 4.15 ERA, along with eight runs and 13 hits allowed in 17 innings, Valverde is not that guy.

The Tigers have given Valverde every opportunity to demonstrate he can be their closer, but it's not working. Opposing batters aren't swinging and missing at a 92 mph fastball. And that splitter has no movement, allowing hitters to tee off on it. Valverde doesn't have anything else. 

I try to write about the Tigers whenever I can for my national baseball gig, so as much as I'm ticked off about Valverde, I welcomed the opportunity his suckitude has provided.

Why didn't I write about Valverde at The Daily Fungo? And why haven't I written there lately? Well, the Fungo is Mike McClary's baby, so he should be the one to tell everyone what's going on with his site.

But I'll be looking for a new place to hang my Tigers-writing shingle. Maybe that will be here, maybe that will be on another blog. I don't know yet. Regardless, I'm grateful for Mike letting me write at the Fungo and wish I could have done more there over the past few months. 

Thursday
Apr182013

Taking a trip to Comerica Park?

To begin the 2013 MLB season, my old buddies at Big League Stew are running a series featuring 10 tips for visiting each major league ballpark.

Thankfully, Kevin Kaduk has often come to me when it comes to Detroit Tigers stuff. He asked me to write the piece for Comerica Park, which I was grateful to do.

(Honestly, I was a little apprehensive, since I haven't been to the Tigers' home ballpark in three years. But with the help of suggestions from Tigers fans on Facebook and Twitter, I was able to find some inspiration.) 

Here's one tip from my article: 

6. Walk around the park. I don't know about you, but I find it frustrating when I can't take a lap around the entire ballpark through the concourse. There is no such problem at Comerica Park. Just make sure to turn your head and look in front of you once in a while. No need to walk into fellow fans, a food vendor or a post while you're keeping your eye on the field.

One of the nicest spots to stand and watch the game is in left-center field, where you can lean on a fence and enjoy an unobstructed view of the Comerica Park outfield while soaking up the warmth of a summer day or evening. While you're there, say hello to Ty, Hank, Charlie, Hal, Al and Willie.

There's plenty more (nine more, to be exact) to read here, if you're interested, including an incident with a homeless guy that I'm still kind of ashamed of to this day. 

Thanks again to Kevin. I've always enjoyed writing for the Stew.

Monday
Apr012013

Last-minute MLB predictions

The 2013 MLB season is underway. MLive’s Chris Iott asked if I could contribute some preseason predictions. Here’s how I see the AL Central shaking out:

1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Minnesota Twins

You can read the rest of my MLB predictions in the full article. They can’t possibly be worse than last year, when I picked the Colorado Rockies to win the NL West. They finished last. 

We didn't go over the individual awards in those MLive predictions, so I'll post those as well. 

American League:
MVP: Adam Jones, Orioles
Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers
Rookie of the Year: Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Indians

National League:
MVP: Joey Votto, Reds
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Rookie of the Year: Jedd Gyorko, Padres
Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke, Brewers